Sasuke’s falls prey to the dark side of the ninja world and spends about twelve episodes inside a coffin. Not too good for his fanbase…
What They Say
Naruto returns to the Hidden Leaf Village to find Sasuke, frustrated with Naruto's sudden growth, thirsting to fight to decide who's the better ninja once and for all. Kakashi stops the fight before the worst can happen, but soon Orochimaru's henchmen arrive in the village to lure Sasuke to Orochimaru with the promise of greater power, a promise Sasuke can't refuse.
In order to retrieve Sasuke, newly appointed chunin Shikamaru forms a squad of genin, including Naruto, to pursue the terrifying Sound Ninja Four. Will they catch up before Orochimaru gets his hands on Sasuke? Let the chase begin!
Contains episodes 107-120.
The bilingual presentation for Naruto continues to be a solid affair as the two stereo tracks are encoded at 256kbps. The series is fairly standard television fare but it handles itself well and there’s a bit of an extra oomph to it at times with the generally full sounding mix. There are moments of good directionality but by and large it’s nothing all that exceptional. The best moments continue to really be the opening and closing sequences with the music but that’s also somewhat normal. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese track or from spot checking the English track.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for these TV episodes are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. The production values for the series continue to be quite good and the authoring side of the release brings a lot of that to light. Naruto has a lot of movement at times and it maintains a very strong look with no motion artifacts or break-up in general. Throughout the fourteen episodes on this set, broken down into a 4/5/5 format, there aren’t any real issues to be found at all. There are a few moments of some mild aliasing during a panning sequence and a bit of noise in some of the darker scenes here and there, but by and large this is a very solid looking release that covers a good range of settings without any discernable issues. Colors are nicely solid, bitrates are healthy with a number of good peaks and everything just feels very appealing. Fans of the show are likely to love how this looks.
Released in both a regular and limited edition, the main difference between the two is that the limited edition contains a statue with it. That’s simply a box that has a flap that slides into the existing digipak box and slipcover. This installment is done up in all a great shade of green with Shikamaru as the principle character. The character artwork looks decent here with the green filter over all of it and I like the consistency among all the sets, but sometimes I wonder if they’d stand out better with more varied colors within the actual designs. The raised logos are a nice touch which gives it a bit more of a special feeling. The back of the slipcover has a basic rundown of what’s going on with some of these episodes and has a clean listing of what the extras are to be found and the very basic technical specs. It unfortunately doesn’t list the episode numbers included in the set which I find to be quite annoying. Within the slipcover we have the storyboard production book which mirrors past ones as well as the digipak. The digipak is cleanly designed and similar to the slipcover in its colors and artwork but it brings in a bit more artwork as the back of it features Choji, Neji and Kiba along with Akamaru. The interior features full color panels of a nice design that has the four members of Orochimaru’s bodyguards in their proper stances. Opening the digipak up once more, you get a green filtered layout which has the three discs with full color character artwork and a green filtered insert. The insert is the only place that lists the episode numbers and titles of the set and is certainly good to have somewhere in the set.
The menu design for Naruto is straightforward in that what we get for each disc is the same as the artwork used on the disc itself for that particular volume. Bright colors, clean looking character designs and some associated music gives it all a very consistent and pleasing feel, even if it is somewhat minimal. The first two discs are simple with just the language, scene selection and starting point to be had while the third volume brings in a bit more with the extras section. Everything is quick to access but there is a bit of interstitial animation between when you start the show itself which is annoying. The discs strangely enough didn’t read our players’ presets though and defaulted to English with no subtitles at all.
The extras for this release, which are on the third volume, are decent enough but lacking in some ways. The production art section is the same as the past and we get a new “sketch to screen” done up for episode 112. Add in the sneak preview of the next set and the English language credits and you have some mildly interesting pieces for a minute or two. I continue to be disappointed that the clean opening and closing sequences aren’t included, especially as they do change within this set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After getting back into the swing of Naruto with the eighth set, I was admittedly rather looking forward to this set to see if my enthusiasm could continue on. One of the things that made the last so rather enjoyable, after not seeing anything past the original four episodes of the series, was that it spent enough time on characters other than Naruto and that Naruto had seemingly grown at least a little from what I had seen of him before and read of him in the manga. Growth is good, especially when you’re an orange jumpsuit wearing ninja.
One of the things that had made that set as enjoyable as it had been was the use of a particular character, Tsunade. Her role as the one that was being sought to help others and then her actual ascension to the role of the Fifth Hokage was quite enjoyable. After being away from the property for so long, I felt like she was an ideal character through which to re-familiarize myself with the series since much of it was new to her again. The second half of that set ran through a number of short stories and dealt with a lot of epilogue from what had occurred prior. Some of it made sense and some of the subtleties, if there can be such a thing in this show, probably went past me since I wasn’t as familiar with the characters and their relationships.
The ninth set doesn’t have quite as much going for it for a couple of reasons. One of which is that the show largely deals with some minorly interesting secondary characters that are out to prove themselves – on both sides of the equation – and that it’s really just one long glorified chase sequence for about twelve episodes and it doesn’t reach a conclusion here. The positive side to it is that thankfully this isn’t the old days and we’re not subjected to what would be four or five discs of three episodes a piece and a chase sequence that would take months to get through. The set nature of this release really works well in Naruto’s favor to make it an enjoyable show and to allow the pace to be kept up. Plowing through this set in two days certainly showcased some rather good writing for a basic shonen action show and a good amount of depth and connectivity to the past for those characters.
One of the follow-up pieces to the last volume is the series of events that put Sasuke in the hospital and seemingly crushed his spirits pretty well. Sakura and Naruto are somewhat oblivious to what he’s going through and really just carry on as if their friend is hurt and recovering and are doing what they can to make him feel better. For Sasuke, Sakura seems to be barely a notice once again while the mere presence of Naruto really does infuriate him. Enough so that even though he’s still wounded and recovering, he challenges Naruto to a fight on the hospital rooftop so they can settle things once and for all. It’s not something that goes on for long, and Kakashi points out internally just how close to being hurt that Sasuke was because of the kind of growth and unpredictable nature that Naruto has.
This particular fight really puts things in a clear place for Sasuke, so much so that he knows it’s time to leave the village and strike out on his own. Or rather, he knows that it’s truly time to go with Orochimaru since he’s been given the Curse Marks on his neck. Having not seen the earlier episodes, it’s unclear through the flashbacks if Sasuke really understands what this particular mark means and how Orochimaru intends to use him because of it. When Orochimaru’s bodyguards entice him with their offer, first through battle and then through fealty, Sasuke gives in to this particular path and surprisingly easily puts a great deal of trust into them since he allows them to essentially kill him and put him in a coffin for transport to Orochimaru.
This turn of events doesn’t go over well for Tsunade who intends to have it corrected pretty quickly, though at first she’s only aware that he left, not that he left with Orochimaru’s guys. With the recently graduated Shikamaru on hand and a dearth of other candidates, she puts him in charge of a team that he can put together quickly to retrieve him. Shikamaru isn’t exactly eager to be doing this since he’s a dedicated “cloud loving loafer” and someone who doesn’t care for Sasuke to begin with, but it’s a duty that he feels is very important and he puts his all into it. That all is in bringing in his friend Choji to help along with Neji, Kiba and his dog Akamaru along with Naruto. This puts into play a fairly diverse group of ninjas to track down Sasuke and bring him back, but it’s also a group that obviously plays well against the Sound Gate Ninja’s and their particular abilities. It doesn’t take long once they get underway to really start going at one another and for them to start pairing off in ideal groups to battle against each other while still on the run.
This is of course one of the inherent weaknesses in any shonen show. It does play out the tournament aspect in a different way and that can make particular segments of the arc difficult or dull to watch. Each of the characters has their own particular issues in the past that are of course relevant in the present or tied to Naruto in some way that they all egg each other on. Choji’s belief that he’s the weakest is something that he has to combat while dealing with his opponent while Neji has to deal with the idea that he really is a genius and has to believe in himself in a way that he hasn’t before, a way that Naruto seemingly finds incredibly easy to do about his own abilities. Along the way, most of them get a good bit of time spent on their past as well, some more than others and some more relevant than others to events at hand, and that helps to flesh them all out a good bit more.
There’s little surprise in this set of episodes and there’s also a fair bit of trouble with it. For Sasuke or Sakura fans, both of them are out of the picture once the second episode on the set is over and you really don’t see either of them again. Naruto fans don’t make out much better as the plucky Onizuka wannabe only has a handful of decent scenes where he’s involved in the action. Instead, like most of them, he spends the bulk of his time running hard through the forests trying to catch the bad guys while the majority of each episode is spent on a particular fight scene between a pairing that lasts a couple of episodes. Each of those mini arcs is done decently but it always comes back to the core problem; how long can you keep bringing in “bigger and better” bad guys before you run out of things that fit within the framework of what’s come before. These episodes are fun enough in their own way and it helped that the focus is kept on the lower tier characters that have appeared in the past and are now being built up. But there is a significant lack of love for some of the primaries of the series and that does drag things down a bit more unfortunately.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles, Production Artwork, Sketch to Screen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.